On Tuesday’s The Voice top 11 results show, it all came down to innocence vs. experience, a grown woman vs. a mere boy. And sadly, probably due to the show’s Twitter-dependent (read: youth-skewing) Instant Save voting system, the right contestant did not prevail.
So in one corner, we had Team Alicia’s Stephanie Rice, the 28-year-old, out-and-proud lesbian singer-songwriter who always wore her heart on her frayed denim sleeve. True, Stephanie’s performance this Monday, of the Who’s stadium rocker “Behind Blue Eyes,” was a slight stylistic departure from the usual dark and depressing fare (“Piece by Piece,” “Safe & Sound,” “Every Breath You Take”) that had helped the vulnerable songstress resonate with her fanbase. But it was still a solid, confident performance that absolutely hadn’t earned the talented musician/arranger a spot in this week’s bottom two.
And in the other corner, we had a familiar elimination-night face: Team Adam’s 19-year-old wannabe heartthrob Mark Isaiah, who’d been Instant-Saved last week, only to land on the chopping block again just six days later. While his Monday performance of Lil Wayne’s “How to Love” was an improvement over last week’s winded and unfocused “One Dance,” it clearly hadn’t clicked with viewers (judging by Mark’s dead-last iTunes ranking among the top 11), and it wasn’t enough of a switch-up to prove that Mark is a versatile or well-rounded performer.
(Side note: Stephanie didn’t exactly set iTunes on fire herself, stalling at No. 56, but she did chart higher than three other safe contestants this week: Aliyah Moulden, TSoul, and Vanessa Ferguson. I had assumed that Aliyah, whose “Take It Back” only made it one notch higher than Mark’s “How to Love,” would be in the bottom two this week.)
In short: Stephanie, an adult, always seemed ready for primetime. Mark, a teen, clearly needed more time to grow — and, being nearly a decade Stephanie’s junior, he obviously has that time. So America’s decision seemed clear, even before the two contestants sang for the Instant Save.
Stephanie sang for the Save first, doing Julia Michaels’s “Issues.” It was a relatively obscure song choice and therefore a risk, but its desperate, pleading lyrics — “I got issues, and one of them is how bad I need you” — seemed like a direct message to America, practically begging for votes, and I was moved. This was classic Stephanie Rice: emotional, slightly unhinged, growly, reckless, and real. And it also rocked.
“We have all watched you completely become your own woman, choosing to be everything musically,” said Stephanie’s proud but concerned coach, Alicia Keys. “You are a producer. You are a musician. You play multiple instruments. You are a writer. You are exactly what an artist is supposed to be. America, I implore you to save Stephanie tonight, to show the world that music lives on. We encourage our young writers to keep shining, our young artists to keep being incredible.”
Mark, to his credit, then delivered his strongest performance of the season, and of a tune probably more familiar to mainstream viewers: Lukas Graham’s Grammy-nominated tearjerker/crowd-pleaser “7 Years.” Mark’s nerves once again got the better of him, triggering his ongoing breath-control issues, but he seemed connected to the lyric, and his performance was simple and sincere.
Stephanie’s face look pained as the show returned from the commercial break displaying an onscreen graphic announcing that with less than a minute to spare, Mark was dominating the real-time Twitter vote by 59 percent. I felt her pain. Since I truly believe Stephanie gave the better Instant Save performance and had the overall more impressive body of work, I can only theorize that the demographic of viewers predisposed to earnestly tweet and retweet for Voice contestants — young, tech-savvy, possibly female — preferred Mark’s pretty, nonthreatening face over Stephanie’s dark growl and dark past.
It’s a shame. I didn’t necessarily think Stephanie had a chance to win this season — with quirky songwriter types like Hunter Plake and Vanessa Ferguson, expressive belters like TSoul and Chris Blue, and tastefully folksy female crooners like Lauren Duski and Brennley Brown, she faced some seriously stiff competition — but I never expected she wouldn’t even make the top 10.
But perhaps all is not lost for Stephanie. The similarly experienced and heartfelt Alisan Porter, winner of Season 10, finally returned to the Voice stage this Tuesday to passionately perform her lovely new single “Deep Water,” and Alisan has apparently gone the indie route, rather than signing to the show’s affiliated label, Universal/Republic. Alisan’s independent spirit hopefully inspired Stephanie to follow her own artistic path, and hopefully we will hear new music from Stephanie soon.